Los Angeles city officials vow to aid small businesses

With small businesses continuing to be squeezed in an uncertain economy, Los Angeles city officials have vowed to do a better job of untangling a vast governmental bureaucracy for small firms.

Not only do these firms need stronger advocates in City Hall, officials said last week, they also need more and clear information about what the city already is doing to help.

"Job creation and job growth at small businesses is going to be the engine that drives the recovery," said Todd Wilson, a managing director in the Mayor's Office of Business and Economic Policy. "We want to do everything we can to help them prosper and contribute to their success."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa named a small-business team to support the outfits and help them navigate the city's labyrinthine permit and tax procedures.

"We're going to get out in the community and meet with as many as small businesses as possible and really try to be their voice and their point of contact," Wilson said. "So if you're a small-business owner and you're having a problem with the planning department or building and safety, you're going to be able to contact me."

The team will reach out to small-business owners and help them identify resources at the city, state and federal levels, Wilson said. Many small-business owners are not aware that there are free consulting services offered by nonprofits or that many private sector banks make grants available to some small businesses and start-ups, he said.

Los Angeles has already begun several programs, including one that provides a three-year holiday from the city's business tax to entrepreneurs just starting out, Wilson said.

The city's moves come amid small-business initiatives on national and state levels. President Obama signed long-awaited legislation Monday to spur loans to small businesses, cut their taxes and help to fund nonprofit small-business development centers.

In Sacramento, advocates worry that small businesses will suffer if taxes are raised to balance the state's budget. Small businesses are also waiting anxiously to see whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign bills that set up purchasing groups to allow many individuals and small businesses to band together to buy health insurance and receive tax breaks on the premiums.

In Los Angeles, the small-business team will include Linda Smith, director of the Minority Business Opportunity Center; and Marcella Ayala, a director in the Mayor's Office of Economic and Business Policy, in addition to Wilson. Among the group's efforts will be developing a Web page to include a calendar of local business events and information about ways to obtain funding in the tight credit market, Wilson said.

Villaraigosa said one of the most important roles of the group would be to provide advocates for small businesses. Large corporations typically have their own lobbyists, the mayor said, but tiny businesses can't afford that kind of representation.

"We are proud that Los Angeles is home to more small businesses than any other city in the country and we are determined to keep that remarkable distinction," Villaraigosa said. "That is why my office created this small-business initiative that will assign a team to identify and mobilize resources for small businesses to help them thrive and expand."


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